LAKELAND, Fla. - For Mark Overstreet, whose family owned Colt Creek State Park’s property for half a century, he says this land epitomizes “real Florida.” The native Central Florida habitat sits on 5,000 acres worth of nature in Polk County.
“We’ve got hardwood here, we’ve got cypress palms, hammocks; we’ve got a little bit of everything,” he said.
Overstreet sold it in 2006, knowing this pristine spot would remain just like this.
“We knew it would never be developed, that it would stay in its natural state,” he said.
Now he stops by just like everyone else, to enjoy the beauty, and maybe stay awhile.
“We just opened our campground in 2018, so camping has been a big draw for people, especially this time of year,” said Karianne Rivera, the park services specialist. “We also have about 13 miles of hiking trails – and they’re multi-use trails, so cyclists and equestrians come out as well.”
And you can’t forget the wildlife, even the slithery kind like the diamondback rattlesnake, which can be found along the walking trails. The snake is an indicator species, meaning it’s an indicator of just how well the ecosystem is doing.
“Seeing one means that the pine Flatwoods are really healthy, and doing well in the area,” said Rivera. “It was a really calm snake. Obviously don’t want to encourage people to touch the snakes, a lot of people are scared to come out in the park when really, they will leave you alone if you leave them alone.”
There’s also Gator Creek, where you’ll find several growing gators, the rare southern fox squirrels, and that’s not all.
“We’ve got bobcats here,” said Rivera. “We recently just had one that had two kittens that have been coming around at night. We, of course, have alligators, white-tailed deer, coyotes and we even had a couple of black bear sightings over the summer.”
It can all be seen on the trails, where Rivera says you can even bring your horses, free of charge. All you need is a Coggins test from the last year, a blood test that detects antibodies to the disease Equine Infectious Anemia.
“You need proof that the Coggins was negative, but all the trails are open for horses,” she said. And we also have the equestrian campground. It is primitive, so there’s no electric or water, but it’s a great place to camp out with your horses.”
The park also has monthly moon hikes and tram tours. And if you’re not interested in walking the trails, they will be starting guided hikes in Spanish soon.
The man who spent the majority of his life on this land sums it up well.
“It’s been a great place,” Overstreet said, “and I think the people who come here really enjoy the natural Florida, which is getting to be real rare these days.”
Colt Creek State Park is located at 16000 State Road 471 in Lakeland. It's $4 per vehicle for entry. It is open every day of the year from 8 a.m. to sundown.
LINK: You can find more information on the Florida State Parks website.